UNODC, through the Institute for International Research on Criminal Policy (IRCP) of the Ghent University in Belgium, carried out a study on the links between organized crime, trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants. For the purpose of this study, all three concepts were defined based on UN legal instruments. This approach was particularly important to determine what falls in and outside the scope of organized crime. The objective of this exercise was to provide insight into what is known on the involvement of organized crime in trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants cases. Developing appropriate criminal justice responses to combat trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants as forms of organized crime requires a knowledge-based response. The study will complement the outcome of the discussions of Member States during one of the plenary sessions of the Twelfth Crime Congress to be held 12-19 April 2010 in Salvador, Brazil. A literature review revealed that in spite of increasing attention, there is still little reliable knowledge on any of the three concepts researched. Furthermore, the limited understanding is often prejudiced because of the weak empirical basis. In addition, strong diverging opinions can be identified. It became clear from the review of the existing literature and from consultations with experts, that the key players on the criminal markets of trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants can be organized in a large variety of ways. The global landscape of organized crime, whether it is in smuggling of migrants or trafficking in persons, drugs, weapons, etc. has changed. The overall common ground in this respect is that not only there exists an enormous diversity in the landscape of organized criminal involvement in both phenomena but that overall there is an enormous diversity as to the different actors active in these markets. The actors involved may be organized criminal groups, individual traffickers or smugglers, or even friends and family of migrants or trafficking victims. Specifically on organized criminal involvement, most of the consulted experts corroborate the position found in literature that not only do we now have the mafia like hierarchically structured organized crime groups, but there is a dominance of more loosely connected networks of ‘specialists’, all playing their own particular part in the criminal operation. When all of these specialists cooperate to in the end succeed in certain large-scale criminal activity, they form one very loosely connected network of specialized criminals. This may ultimately translate into one successful criminal organization. Contacts between nodes of the network can be compared to business-relations. It is even possible that one specialist has his own function in several networks. What is also possible is that several people or even all people in the network do all jobs together. This may be the case for smaller-scale networks, mostly consisting of members from the same nationality. These networks are structured like any other legitimate business, and every form, size, cooperation between networks, etc. is thinkable as long as this is the way to maximise profit. Another important point that needs to be raised when analysing the network structure of organized crime groups, which counts for both smuggling of migrants as for trafficking in persons, is that networks can easily cooperate, if this is deemed in their best financial interest. The key factor that determines the structure of criminal involvement in both trafficking and smuggling is profit and the maximalisation there-of, as is the case for any other illicit market. The involvement of criminal actors in the market of trafficking in persons or smuggling of migrants can occur in any thinkable scenario, as long as the scenario results in the highest possible profit for the criminal activity.
Read the full report here.